Today I saw stars for the second time in a year. The light pollution in Seoul is so bad, and the air so often hazy that they just don’t get through very much. One of my Korean teachers and I were discussing it way back when I still had Korean teachers and she told me that if I think I see a star in Seoul, it’s only a satellite. Walking home tonight, though, there seemed to be too many to write off as satellites. I stopped in the park I was cutting through to count them. There were 23. I wasn’t entirely convinced still (and some of the spots were certainly moving) but then I saw noticed Orion’s Belt. Stars for sure.
Amazing, wondrous stars. Like pinpricks through a vast sheet of hazy, faded-from-black paper. And they twinkled. Twinkle is one of the primary default star verbs, I know, but I’d never really paid attention before. They really do; they twinkle.
I was walking home from seeing a tear-jerker of a movie, so at that moment, with my emotions already rubbed raw by the entertainment industry, it’s possible that I cried a little. I’ll only admit to it being a possibility though, because I don’t want to sound like an emotional old lady.
This was my second moment of wonder in the past three days. The first happened on Sunday night when I looked out the bus window and wondered where on Earth I was.
What I did know was that I was on the 1600, a bus I’ve been riding a few times a week for months now, but wherever it had taken me tonight was not where it had been taking me for the past few months. I guess the sign posted above the driver probably explained the route change, but that’s only a guess because it was way more than my sad little reservoir of Korean could handle.
I started paying very close attention to the signs outside and managed to get off at a stop with a subway station: Incheon City Hall. It could have been a lot worse. I was only six stops with one subway transfer and then a 10-minute bus ride away from home. Granted, it would have been nice to just ride the 1600 home like I usually do, but like I said, Seoul is a big place and it could have been a lot worse.
I did worry a bit when I descended the polished granite steps into the subways station to find it completely empty. The ticket booth was closed, there were no guards around, and no passengers. Not a soul, but the turnstiles were running, so I scanned my T-Money card and continued down to the platform.
There wasn’t anyone down there either, not on either side of the tracks. It was just me standing on the unusually bright and sterile looking polished granite platform among rows of polished granite columns listening to the loudspeaker emitting what I decided must have been an Abba’s greatest hits CD after Dancing Queen finished and Take a Chance On Me started.
When I find myself in these kinds of odd settings or circumstances I always regret having read so many books and watched so many movies over the course of my life, because instead of just thinking, “Well, this is unusual.” I think something more like, “I think this is the kind of place that gateways to magical realms are usually tucked away.” or “I’m sure I’ve seen a horror movie that started exactly like this.” Usually it’s all three of those at pretty much the same time, but the horror movie one always quite louder than the other two. That’s why I was relieved seven minutes later when I was stepping into a sparsely occupied subway car rather than disappointed to find that I hadn’t stumbled into a fairy tale after all. Within the half hour I was home.